Day 57: Cherokee Plant Names



I’m starting to learn Cherokee, very slowly, but it’s already so interesting for me, especially when it comes to plant names. Cherokee plants names are usually descriptive in nature, for example tsaliyu’sti “like tobacco” for the mullein and lobelia plants, distai’yi “they are tough” for goat’s rue (known for its long, strong roots), u’ga-atasgi’ski “the pus oozes out” for milkweed, and a’tali kuli “it climbs the mountain” for ginseng. Of course there are a lot more than just these few. Being of Cherokee heritage it’s becoming more and more important for me to connect back to my ancestral language. A somewhat easy way to do that is by learning the names of the plants I use all the time. I’ve started writing the Cherokee names on the jars of plants, and whenever I’m gathering out in the wild I always speak the Cherokee name a few times before I pick the plant. It’s not much, and I may never be able to learn enough of the language to have full conversations with people, but for me it’s still a way for me to connect to my ancestors.

I had a dream a few nights ago that I was out in the tobacco fields with my Cherokee great-grandpa. He would point to a plant and yell “Tsalu!” then point at me. Like a child trying to learn words I let them fall out of my mouth, slowly, slowly, at first. “Tsalu!” he would yell again. “Tsa’l-agayu’li!” I would start to yell back. The dream continued on like this until my grandpa smiled at me, patted my back, then we went off toward the house.

I wonder if I’ll have more dreams like this the more I learn?

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